Display Calibration 101: Step-By-Step With Datacolor's Spyder4Elite

In every monitor review, we recommend that enthusiasts calibrate their screens. The benefits are many, but how can achieve this without spending thousands of pounds on exotic gear? Today, we’ll show you how, and for less than the price of your monitor!

The theories behind and benefits of calibrating your monitor are many. They could easily be the subject of a separate article. In fact, this is indeed the first in a series of stories about monitor calibration. But to summarize, the most important reason to calibrate any display is to achieve consistency between the source of the content and the display used to show that content.

For instance, a camera films a scene using a particular set of standards for color, brightness, gamma, and white balance. The only way to see that material the way the director saw it is to match your display to those standards. Fortunately, there are parameters for video production that are the same as the ones used in games, digital photography, and other content creation systems. A majority of computer displays can come pretty close to these.

At Tom's Hardware, every monitor we review is run through a large array of performance tests, and each receives a full calibration using professional-grade instruments and software. This yields accurate and repeatable results, no matter what type of display we work with. The rub is that we have thousands of pounds invested in our test gear, and that's totally impractical for you to match at home.

We always recommend calibrating your monitor, regardless of what you want to do with it. It’s just as important to have an accurate and balanced image in front of you, whether you’re editing photos, playing games, watching videos, or working solely with productivity apps. Think of this as performance tuning for your monitor.

So, while I have access to a lot of very high-end equipment, our notebook, all-in-one, and tablet teams don't. Instead, they're using Datacolor's Spyder4Elite. This £179 package contains everything you need to calibrate your monitor to a precise standard. In the future, we'll cover calibration with tools from X-Rite and Spectracal, discuss color theory, and dive into the science behind display calibration. For now, though, we're trying to get your picture looking good at an affordable price.

The components needed to calibrate any type of display are the same, no matter how you spend on them. You need some type of measuring device, a software package to control that device, and a way to generate patterns for the device to measure. Let’s start by discussing each component in more detail, starting with the meter.

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  • Menigmand
    I still don't understand why we have to buy a $250 device just to get a proper picture on our screens. Why are they not factory calibrated? After all, in these days, the input is digital, so the display data should be 1-to-1 identical to (for example) game RGB data... I'm sure I'm wrong somehow, but about what?
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  • mi1ez
    That was actually a genuinely interesting article! Good work Tom's.

    Anonymous said:
    I still don't understand why we have to buy a $250 device just to get a proper picture on our screens. Why are they not factory calibrated? After all, in these days, the input is digital, so the display data should be 1-to-1 identical to (for example) game RGB data... I'm sure I'm wrong somehow, but about what?


    The problem is twofold:

    Variance in the panels. Each panel would need to be calibrated individually adding time and cost

    The WOW factor. Many manufacturers will ship monitors with the saturation set too high so when you fist set it up it gives you the wow factor. I believe. This second one might not be 100% true and more of a showroom trick.
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  • Will P
    A great article, a good introduction on an often overlooked aspect of the PC setup. Every screen I have ever bought has had a ridiculously high brightness out of the box, which I suppose could be put down to a 'Wow factor' for sure... The kit is expensive though, but if it is going to make every screen you own 20% better and last for 5 years it starts to look like a good investment.

    I was wondering if the re-calibration of the cheaper units (such as the Spyder) can be done with the Spyder itself or do you need specialist kit?
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  • timbozero
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it.
    There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost.
    Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?
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  • mi1ez
    Anonymous said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it.
    There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost.
    Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?

    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?
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  • timbozero
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it.
    There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost.
    Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?

    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?


    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data.

    This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.livmenu.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2
    This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.livmenu.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/

    Hopefully that will help
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  • mi1ez
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it.
    There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost.
    Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?

    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?


    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data.

    This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.livmenu.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2
    This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.livmenu.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/

    Hopefully that will help



    So do you have like a physical card to compare with what's on screen?
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  • timbozero
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it.
    There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost.
    Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?

    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?


    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data.

    This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.livmenu.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2
    This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.livmenu.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/

    Hopefully that will help



    So do you have like a physical card to compare with what's on screen?


    No, the only physical item (other than the disc) is a blue tinted filter which is used for one of the several tests.
    Brightness (as an example) displays a test strip and you adjust the brightness until your screen shows certain details but not others (as instructed by the previous 'chapter' of the 'film').
    There are several levels of testing and reading the review I linked will give you more of an idea.

    I did the setup for TV, projector setup (Datacolor products won't work on projectors as the device blocks the very image you need to measure) and my monitor. The projector wasnt far out and made a small difference, my monitor and TV were 'miles' out and the tuning with the disc worked wonders :)
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  • mi1ez
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it.
    There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost.
    Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?

    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?


    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data.

    This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.livmenu.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2
    This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.livmenu.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/

    Hopefully that will help



    So do you have like a physical card to compare with what's on screen?


    No, the only physical item (other than the disc) is a blue tinted filter which is used for one of the several tests.
    Brightness (as an example) displays a test strip and you adjust the brightness until your screen shows certain details but not others (as instructed by the previous 'chapter' of the 'film').
    There are several levels of testing and reading the review I linked will give you more of an idea.

    I did the setup for TV, projector setup (Datacolor products won't work on projectors as the device blocks the very image you need to measure) and my monitor. The projector wasnt far out and made a small difference, my monitor and TV were 'miles' out and the tuning with the disc worked wonders :)


    It's very much subjective still, rather than absolute. While I agree for most people this is pointless, if you need it calibrated you need it done properly. I wouldn't surprised if you could rent one of these if you looked hard enough.
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  • timbozero
    It is not at all subjective, you need to use it to realise that it is 'absolute' but, it is not as accurate as digital metering (only close to).
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  • mi1ez
    Anonymous said:
    It is not at all subjective, you need to use it to realise that it is 'absolute' but, it is not as accurate as digital metering (only close to).


    If you're using your eyes, then it is subjective. You can't say that everyone's eyes are the same, 20/20 or not.
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  • timbozero
    *sigh* Think how you will , I am not here to change your mind.

    The brightness test (for example) is done with a graduated display thus :-
    http://www.livmenu.com/wp-content/uploads/review/wow/wow_brightness_thumb.jpg.pagespeed.ce.JIxKCdd3ek.jpg
    There is only 1 point on the brightness adjustment where the correct graduation will match and the only 'downside' (which you could even remotely call subjective) is that it will not be spot on (as a digital meter might be).

    There is another for contrast etc., etc., etc.. Once they are all completed .....

    Ah hell, try it or don't. It made a massive difference to my cinema room and for only 25$ which is a bargain compared to the digital meter (which was my initial point, that it's overkill to buy a meter)

    Peace, Out :)
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  • mi1ez
    Anonymous said:
    *sigh* Think how you will , I am not here to change your mind.

    The brightness test (for example) is done with a graduated display thus :-
    http://www.livmenu.com/wp-content/uploads/review/wow/wow_brightness_thumb.jpg.pagespeed.ce.JIxKCdd3ek.jpg
    There is only 1 point on the brightness adjustment where the correct graduation will match and the only 'downside' (which you could even remotely call subjective) is that it will not be spot on (as a digital meter might be).

    There is another for contrast etc., etc., etc.. Once they are all completed .....

    Ah hell, try it or don't. It made a massive difference to my cinema room and for only 25$ which is a bargain compared to the digital meter (which was my initial point, that it's overkill to buy a meter)

    Peace, Out :)


    We'll agree to disagree.
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  • Flyfisherman
    Very interesting and much needed article, keep up the good work!

    But there is one thing that comes in mind, about the licence of the S/W.
    Is it possible to install the S/W and the colorimeter on more than one computer, or is it locked to the first computer once one has entered the activation code?

    Because I have several computers at home and really would like to use the equipment to do this calibration on them all.

    I assume that there should not be a problem to calibrate two monitors on the same computer?

    Best Regards from Sweden.
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